The Triad And U.S. Nuclear Force Structure

Fact Sheet
Bureau of Verification, Compliance, and Implementation
April 8, 2010

Key Point: The New START Treaty ensures our own military the flexibility to deploy and maintain our forces – including bombers, submarines, and missiles – in ways that best meet U.S. national security interests.

An early task for the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) was to develop U.S. positions for the New START negotiations. The Treaty’s lower strategic force levels are based on analysis conducted last year, at the initial phase of the 2010 NPR process, which also considered how U.S. forces should be structured at the levels established by the new agreement. The NPR reached the following conclusions:

  • Stable deterrence can be maintained while reducing U.S. strategic delivery vehicles by about 50 percent from the START I level and reducing deployed strategic warheads by about 30 percent from the 2002 Moscow Treaty level.

  • Contributions by non-nuclear systems to U.S. deterrence and reassurance goals should be preserved by avoiding limitations on missile defenses and preserving options for using heavy bombers or long-range missile systems in conventional roles.

  • During the ten-year duration of New START, the triad of ICBMs, SLBMs, and nuclear-capable heavy bombers will be maintained, keeping all 14 Ohio-class strategic submarines (SSBNs) in the force at least for the near term and “de-MIRVing” all Minuteman III ICBMs to a single warhead each to increase stability in a crisis. The FY 2011 budget request includes funds to sustain the Triad, including: continuing the Minuteman III life extension program; developing new technologies to replace the current fleet of Ohio-class SSBNs, which begin to retire in the 2027 timeframe; and investing over $1 billion over the next five years to support upgrades to the B-2 stealth bomber.

The New START Treaty affirms the right of the United States to determine the composition and structure of our strategic offensive arms within the Treaty’s overall limits. This allows the United States to adjust our force structure over time as appropriate to the strategic circumstances. The Treaty limitations take effect seven years after the date the Treaty enters into force.